A recent Pew Charitable Trusts article highlighted a growing problem across the country – overdue water bills causing the loss of a family home. In Philadelphia, getting behind on your water bills could mean losing your home through a Sheriff’s Sale – a public auction where the City sells your property to the highest bidder. That’s a scary possibility, but the good news is that there are ways to avoid it. Here’s how the process works and how you can keep it from happening to you.
When you fall behind on your water bill, the City of Philadelphia can place a lien on your property for the unpaid water and wastewater bills. If the lien is not paid, the City can seek the Common Pleas Court’s permission to sell the property at an auction called a Sheriff’s Sale.
By getting on the Philadelphia Water Department’s bill affordability program, the ‘Tiered Assistance Program’ (TAP), you can protect your home from Sheriff’s Sale. Keep reading to learn how TAP can stop you from losing your home and help you save on your water bill.
What is TAP?
TAP helps low-income customers or those experiencing special hardships by giving them a fixed monthly bill that is set between 2-4% of household monthly income. You do not need to be behind on your water bill to apply for TAP.
While you’re on TAP, you are not required to catch up on your unpaid water bills. As a result, the City cannot take actions against you to collect on unpaid water bills, file any new liens on your property for previously unpaid bills, or put your property up for Sheriff’s Sale – as long as you are making timely payments on your TAP bill.
Am I eligible for TAP?
You are eligible for TAP if the water bill is in your name, you occupy the property, and your household income is at or below 150% of the Federal Poverty Line (FPL). The most recent FPL guidelines can be found here.
Tenants and occupants must become Water Department customers to enroll in TAP. You will have to show evidence that you are a tenant or have the right to occupy the property and the Water Department will have to give the owner an opportunity to object to the bill being in your name. The Water Department may need to verify your landlord’s rental license before you can get a tenant account.
If your household income is above 150% of the FPL but at or below 250%, you may still qualify for TAP if someone in your household has experienced a special hardship in the past year. Here are some circumstances that the Water Department considers “special hardships”:
- an increase in the Customer’s number of dependents in the household;
- a seriously ill household member; or
- circumstances that threaten the household’s access to the necessities of life (e.g., job loss, death of wage earner, domestic violence.)
How do I apply for TAP?
Applications can be submitted online here, in person, or by mail. You can use the online form to print an application or you can call (215) 685-6300 to request an application by mail. You can also apply at a PWD partner site.
You will need to provide income documentation for all household members and proof of residency. You can check out the full TAP application checklist here.
What if I am denied TAP?
If you are denied TAP, or you are facing a Sheriff’s Sale for unpaid water bills, The Energy Unit at Community Legal Services (CLS) may be able to help! If a written TAP denial is not initially provided to you, request one from the Water Department.
CLS’ Energy Unit intake is Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, from 9 a.m. to Noon at 1424 Chestnut Street or 1410 W Erie Ave.